Here we go again!
Unique among all science fiction heroes, the time-traveling alien known as the Doctor is most exciting when being reinvented. Over a dozen actors have played the titular Time Lord in Doctor Who since 1963, and just since 2005, there have been five men (Christopher Eccleston, David Tennant, Matt Smith, John Hurt, and Peter Capaldi) steering the TARDIS through space and time. Jodie Whittaker is about to be the official 13th Doctor and the first woman in the role. But, in the very first footage for Doctor Who Season 11 — revealed in a new teaser on Sunday — hidden references were made to very recent history of the beloved character. But, tellingly, these Easter eggs were focused only on one fan favorite: Smith's 11th incarnation of the Doctor.
Here's what the secret Matt Smith Doctor Who Easter eggs were in the new Season 11 footage, and what these references might mean.
But, first, let's rewatch that teaser:
Oddly, the new teaser shows more of the Doctor's new companions than it does of the Doctor herself. And it's in these brief vignettes where the Matt Smith Easter eggs pop up. At the beginning of the teaser, we see Tosin Cole as Ryan Sinclair having a quick bite in a diner. But, when some spooky Doctor Who regeneration energy hits his food, he's suddenly eating fish fingers and custard. This is a direct reference to Matt Smith's very first episode in 2010, "The Eleventh Hour," when the newly-regenerated Doctor ate fish fingers dipped in custard much to the disgust of young Amy Pond.
The second companion featured, Madpi Gill as Yasmin Khan, doesn't seem to contain any overt Easter eggs per se, other than the fact that it seems like the Doctor's regeneration energy manages to turn an entirely eaten pizza into a pizza that hasn't been eaten at all. It's a stretch, but this is basically a reference to anytime the Doctor's regeneration energy has able to regrow or replace things entirely. In the very first David Tennant episode "The Christmas Invasion," the Doctor was able to grow a whole new hand after losing one in a sword fight. But, the pizza regeneration trick is mostly a visual gag and not an outright Easter egg.
But the final companion scene we glimpse Bradley Walsh as Graham, and this part totally sports a huge, if a little obscure, Matt Smith Easter egg. Though Graham thinks he's reading the paper, after the Doctor's regeneration energy does its magical thing, he's suddenly holding a copy of the British comedic magazine The Beano. Now, this is a direct reference to the episode "The Rings of Akhaten," in which the Doctor travels back to 1981, to spy on Clara's parents in order to figure out the mysteries of her past. While sitting on a park bench, supposedly in disguise, the Doctor is reading a 1981 copy of The Beano. This is the exact same issue Graham is holding in the new season 11 teaser. Does this mean that Graham knows Clara's parents? Does it hint at some deeper connection between the 11th Doctor and the new 13th Doctor, other than the fact that they're technically the same person?
Outside of fan theories, why does the newest Doctor Who teaser focus so much on Matt Smith's 11th Doctor? Chances are, the BBC wants to let casual viewers know that the show is returning to the fun-loving vibe which the defined the majority of the Matt Smith era from 2010-2013. Arguably, since its return in 2005, Smith's tenure as the Doctor found the show at its most popular among younger viewers and Americans in general. Prior to 2010, the new Doctor Who was difficult for Americans to watch, and hadn't really exploded at various stateside comic-cons. But, after 2010 — and Matt Smith — that all changed. Although David Tennant probably still remains the most popular contemporary Doctor, the Matt Smith era represents contemporary Doctor Who fandom at the height of its popularity.
Though Peter Capaldi was beloved by a lot of fans, the hard reality is that Doctor Who lost ratings and seemingly widespread appeal after 2014 and throughout Capaldi's three seasons in the role. Were younger fans not ready for an older guy in the part after two back-to-back young Doctors? Maybe. Was the drop-off in ratings and popularity more due to fan backlash against showrunner Steven Moffat? Perhaps. Either way, the ending of the Capaldi era was something of a relief for many contemporary fans, and of course, with the casting of Whittaker as the first non-male Doctor, even casual viewers have something to look forward to.
But, for the die-hard Whovians, the shout-outs to Matt Smith seem pointed and intentional. In a sense, these visual cues seem to be saying one thing loud and clear: if you stopped watching Doctor Who in 2013, that's okay, because this new season will basically pick up right where the vibe of that version of the show left off. Even Jodie's boots seem a little bit like Matt's.
Doctor Who Season 11 will debut on BBC and BBC America this fall.